For Filmmaker Doyle, Hong Kong After Occupy a Tale of Three Cities
"Have a fucking whisky and go to work—not to the bloody fiscal tower, the big penis in the sky.”
The work of Hong Kong filmmaker Christopher Doyle has defined the city. Best known for his collaborations with Wong Kar-wai, Doyle has a distinctly recognizable style—lingering shots that follow protagonists through a hyper-saturated world—exemplified in classics such as “In the Mood for Love” and “Chungking Express.” But Doyle’s latest film is working to define the city in another way, as one of the first films to address the Occupy movement.
The “Hong Kong Trilogy” is a three-part pseudo-documentary dedicated to the stories of the children, youth and elderly of Hong Kong, named “Preschooled,” “Preoccupied” and “Preposterous,” respectively. Doyle takes a decidedly simplified approach, with a realistic yet at times absurd storytelling style he calls “realidada.” The film is a patchwork of a variety of voices: From schoolchildren to aspiring rappers, from a mainland Chinese street singer to an urban farmer who grew organic vegetables in the Occupy camps. Their words overlay footage of the city, its people and the protests, weaving together an investigative narrative all about what it means to live in the SAR.
The first segment, focusing on schoolchildren, began as a commission from the Hong Kong International Film Festival, with the short film premiering last March, while the following parts were filmed and evolved just as the Occupy movement swept the city exactly a year ago. The film was backed by a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, allowing Doyle and his team to start filming immediately, rather than having to wait months on end for a film company to invest. Launched in January, the campaign successfully raised USD124,126 in a month—20 percent more than Doyle’s goal.
The People’s Project
Having lived and worked in Hong Kong for over four decades, Doyle stresses the importance of this film in terms of its relevance for Hong Kong people, as well as celebrating the city as a whole. “Hong Kong is my home, it’s where my energy comes from,” he says. “I live here and I love it here, but who am I to speak for other people? You have to let go: You have to stand back and let the thing happen.” As a result, Doyle says that 90 percent of the film is “people expressing themselves, and us giving them a visual parameter. A context.” Doyle gives most of the credit for the film to the individuals who gave their voices to the 10 days of filming, and over a year of interviewing people from hundreds of different backgrounds. “They’re just telling us how they feel about being in Hong Kong at their age, and they can do it much better than I can.”
The team would head to the Occupy camp at Admiralty at 6am to avoid being recognized
Doyle and his collaborators didn’t set out to find specific “characters” to furnish a Hong Kong story. Instead, it was more a serendipitous flow: The team met the right voices as they went along. “We tried to learn our city through people,” says the film’s producer Jenny Suen, who also conducted most of the interviews. “Most of [them] came from interactions in our own lives.”
There were specific subjects that Doyle wanted, though: Suen spent six hours riding trams in the summer heat to find a suitable tram driver to interview. For Doyle, the tram is an important symbol of the city. “There’s something about the tram which is steady and true and very Hong Kong, and it gets you to where you want to go.” Little wonder that Doyle is agitated by ex-town planner Sit Kwok-keung’s plans to ban trams from Admiralty and Central. “It’s a fucking desecration of everything that matters. We have to keep the trams, it’s the bloodstream of Hong Kong! Are you kidding? I will personally go and put a GoPro up his ass. If you take away the trams, you might as well fill in the harbor, and build high rises and forget about what Hong Kong really is.”
Guardians of the City
Despite mostly taking on a calm and contemplative tone and flavor, the film is also intended as a call to action, an attempt to end the complacency and passivity that comes as from living in Hong Kong.
In “Preschooled” Ching Man asks: “Why are there so many gods in this world? Are there so many of us who need to be saved?”
In “Preposterous” teacher Selene volunteers during “Preposterous Seniors Speed Dating.”
“You dream when you’re a kid. When you’re old, you look back and think: ‘Oh, if only I’d done this,’” says Doyle. “That’s why we made the film: to tell people to wake up! Have a fucking whisky and go to work—not to the bloody fiscal tower, the big penis in the sky. Don’t go work in a penis.”
A challenge also came in terms of creating a succinct link between the three segments and three generations. The team chalks up their solution to the accidental but happy discovery of two muses, two women who ended up providing a metaphor for the Hong Kong spirit in the film: Feng shui master Thierry Chow and architectural conservationist Maoshan Connie, who drew maps of the Occupy camp in Admiralty.
The two balance the overall narrative between the mystical, superstitious side of Hong Kong tradition and the modern, methodical urge to record our city as it grows, decays or evolves. “They are the menshen, the guardians of our city,” says Doyle. “For us, that was the link. To me, they’re the spirit of Hong Kong.”
Being such a high profile filmmaker, working and filming during Occupy was no easy task. “We had to keep as low-profile as possible so we could be as true as possible,” says Doyle. The team would head to the Occupy camp at Admiralty at 6am, and be done by 10am. “We couldn’t do what we wanted to do with the fans and paparazzi,” said Suen. “The point was to keep as under the radar as possible so we could actually make the film, not be there and make a political statement.”
Thierry Chow looks into the past, present and future of Hong Kong
Architectural conservationist Maoshan Connie records the changes of the city.
Celebrating the SAR
Focusing on individuals and their aspirations and energies, Doyle’s portrayal of the Occupy movement is a deeply humanistic piece of filmmaking. “The umbrella movement to me is not about politics, it’s about economics. It’s about hope for yourself. It’s about all the lies you’ve been told all your life, and how you reconcile them. It’s political in the sense that it’s: ‘What the fuck are we going to do?’
“I want to celebrate this city because this is the city that gave me almost everything I have—this is the city that created [Doyle’s alter ego] Du Kefeng. In my case, the only way to give something back was to give it a visual energy,” Doyle concludes. “If we don’t celebrate who we are, who will?”
Kevin Sherlock, a close friend of Doyle’s, also starred in his 1998 film “Away With Words.” He appears in “Hong Kong Trilogy” as a beer-obsessed foreigner. Doyle says the character is a metaphor for himself.